Subscriber Incentives: Are They Effective?

Peter Boulder of Pepper and Rodgers Group tells a story of a friend of his who recently visited New York City.

His friend spotted an ad that read something like: "Buy at our grocery store and if the cashier doesn't smile at you when you check out, everything in your cart is free."

Impressed, he made a straight line for the store in question and filled up his shopping cart with everything he'd need for a week.

To his chagrin, the lady at checkout not only didn't smile, but didn't even look at him. But there was some consolation in the situation, he thought, and he triumphantly claimed his bounty of free groceries.

The cashier, however, denied any knowledge of such a special offer. Puzzled, the visiting gentleman took out his newspaper and showed her the ad.

"Ah," she said, "look at that date! That's last week's promotion!"

So what's wrong?

Now what was wrong with the grocery store's marketing approach? For a start, of course, friendly customer service, if you want to offer it, cannot be contingent upon certain time slots or seasons of the year.

Either it's part of your mission statement, your philosophy of business, or it isn't. That's pretty straightforward.

But let's say you're not really interested in the service- with-a-smile concept. (A pity - but your loss!)

You know your cashier's only there for the paycheck, and that's fine by you, as long as she's competent at her job of checking out purchases. You don't expect her to take any special interest in your customers, and you just have this "smile or don't pay" gig once in a while as a stunt to bring a few more people into the store.

The question now is: how effective can this kind of marketing tactic be?

Well, in the case under discussion, it may not be the ideal way of stimulating new business, but such a promotion could serve some purpose, up to a point. Conceivably, some new people, or those that haven't shopped for a while, will be attracted by the prospect of a winning smile.

The result: a little more money in the cash registers, as long as the promotion is running and the cashiers are cooperating. Even once the promotion is over, a few of these people might have already become habituated to doing their shopping there.

Now, instead of friendly countenances (which, sadly, it doesn't really believe in anyway), let's say that the store decided to offer, during the period of the promotion, special discounts on certain products, or a brand new product for free with purchases over a certain amount?

Which of these two promotions is likely to be more effective in the long run? Surely, the second.

Why? Simply because once the customers have been induced to sample the products on "special offer", and happily, they find them to their liking, they will probably continue to buy them at full price, once the promotion is over.

Biting the carrot

Nowadays, ambitious entrepreneurs dream up and implement all kinds of ingenious incentives to drum up business - contests, referral bonuses, points, loyalty programs, you name it. Some types of viral marketing also rely heavily on incentives to persuade people to pass the message along.

All too often, the end result is disappointment - for entrepreneur and consumer alike.

This usually happens when there's little real relation between the incentive and the product or service, and the product, in turn, falls short of the consumer's expectations. Viral marketers and their willing agents may succeed beyond expectation in whipping up mass hysteria about a new idea - which, in the end, turns out to be a damp squib.

Unfortunately, email publishers who offer incentives to prospective new subscribers, sometimes suffer the same fate. Disillusioned newsletter consumers are becoming increasingly wary about biting the carrots dangled before their eyes.

But if incentive and product are closely connected, at least you have a chance of success. The most cynical of people will bite a carrot if they're genuinely convinced that it's truly representative of a sumptuous repast ahead.

If that conviction is then vindicated and everything's according to their taste, they'll stay right to the end of the party.

It's hard enough, though, to produce scintillating content in your publication itself, without being forced to create additional "bait" or "teaser" material in the form of special reports or the like. And if your new readers are disappointed with the final product, the most tantalizing incentives won't help in the end.

You only have to look at the prominent news sites on the Internet that repeat virtually the identical stories week after week, to get an idea of the challenge of producing consistently good content on an ongoing basis.

Yet, if you really want to succeed, this is precisely the challenge which you, as publisher, must face. Good marketing strategies are essential, but marketing is the means, not the end.

A good marketer, they say, sells the sizzle, not the steak.

But without the steak, there's no sizzle!

Azriel Winnett is the creator of - Your Communication Skills Portal. This popular free website is devoted to helping you improve your communication and relationship skills on all levels in business and professional life, in the family unit and on the social scene.

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